Baghdad, Iraq A defiant Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea Monday, insisting he was still Iraq's president as the judge formally charged him with crimes against humanity, including murder and torture of women and children.
As stipulated by Iraqi law, the charges were announced as the defense began making its case in the nearly 7-month-old trial of the ousted Iraqi leader and members of his regime.
Chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman called Saddam and his seven co-defendants into the court one by one to read the charges against them in a crackdown against Shiites in the 1980s. He listed the names of 17 people who died from torture during interrogation or from harsh prison conditions.
Saddam, the first to be called, sat alone in the defendants' pen listening silently. When Abdel-Rahman asked for his plea, he stood behind the podium and traded shouts with the judge, who tried to limit him to a one-word answer.
"Your honor, you gave a long report. That report can't be summed up by saying guilty or not," Saddam said. "Your honor is now before Saddam Hussein, the president of Iraq. ... I am the president of Iraq by the will of the Iraqis, and I remain president of Iraq up to this moment."
"I do not recognize the collaborators that they brought to appoint a court and put forward a law with retroactive effect against the head of state," he said.
Abdel-Rahman entered a plea of not guilty for Saddam.
The atmosphere in the court was silent, with few of the outbursts that have disrupted past sessions. Brought in after Saddam, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim - once head of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency - frowned as he listened to the same charges. When asked his plea, he muttered, "What you say is not true."
Saddam and his co-defendants face possible execution by hanging if found guilty on the charges in the crackdown in the Shiite town of Dujail.
Security forces arrested hundreds of Dujail residents, including entire families, in the wake of a July 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam in the town. Witnesses, including women, have recounted being tortured while in prison. Farmlands were razed and 148 Shiites were sentenced to death for the shooting attack on Saddam. All 148 were killed, either dying under interrogation or executed.
Abdel-Rahman accused Saddam of ordering security forces to launch a "systematic, wide-scale attack" on residents of Dujail "using all weapons against them."
"As a result for your orders to use force against Dujail residents, nine people were killed in the first two days ... and 399 others were arrested," he said.
He said Saddam ordered 148 persons tried before his Revolutionary Court, then approved death sentences issued against them. Earlier in the trial, the prosecution presented the trial order and a memo approving the death sentences, both with signatures that Iraqi experts authenticated as Saddam's.
Two women and five children were among the 17 who died in prison. The judge also listed six other children who were among those executed. He did not give their ages, saying only that they were under 18.